|Women's golf headed to NCAA West Regional|
No matter what happens at the NCAA West Regional Women's Golf Tournament, the University of Idaho team will go down as one of, if not the, most successful in school history.
"The goal, first and foremost, is to enjoy the experience," said coach Lisa Johnson, whose team won three tournaments this season along with one runner-up outing and a third while finishing in the top half of every event except one.
"If everyone on the team can play a little bit more consistent golf and play a little better than we have been this spring, we'll put ourselves in a better position at regionals to advance to nationals."
Twenty-seven teams are competing in the 54-hole tournament, which is Thursday through Saturday this week. The top eight teams and two individuals qualify for the NCAA Championship, which is at the Country Club of Landfall at Wilmington, N.C.
Johnson said the Stanford University course is a fair test of golf - not too long at 6,100 yards and playing to a par of 71. Where trouble lurks is in the fairway rough should it be long and the greens, which can be fast.
"Obviously," she said, "it's important to go into the tournament feeling like we believe we can play well enough to make it to nationals. And I believe the team feels that way. We also understand we have to play really well to do that.
"You always want to set your goals higher than what you've achieved."
That being said, making the regional field is a bonus to an already successful season for the Vandals, who have one of the nation's best players in sophomore Kayla Mortellaro, who heads into the regional tournament ranked 19th. The Vandals are ranked 51st by GolfStat and are joined in the West Regional field by a host of top-25 teams. No. 1 UCLA is in the field along with No. 6 Alabama and No. 7 Arizona as well as 12th-ranked Ohio State, 13th Virginia, 17th Stanford, 19th LSU, 24th California and 25th Texas A&M.
"The team is very focused, " said Johnson, who lightened practices sessions somewhat the week before departure because the Vandals head straight to final exams upon their return. "Nerves could play a factor, especially those who haven't played in a regional before."
The Vandals have some experience there with Mortellaro advancing last year as an individual and Amanda Jacobs, now a senior, a part of the 2007 Western Athletic Conference Champion that reached the regional tournament. Jacobs, however, is the lone senior on the team. Joining her and Mortellaro as the Vandals' five are sophomores Teo Poplawski, Frida Nilsson and Annika Karlsson.
"We've beaten some top-25 teams this year already," Johnson said. "It's realistic if we go out and play our best golf then we can make it.
"We're going with the goal that we're going to have a lot of fun and play one shot at a time. If we play our best golf and advance, we do. If we don't, then we can be proud that we at least got there and gave it our best effort."